Locals skeptical toward Trump’s Middle East peace plan
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'Deal of the Century'Plan not 'good faith effort,' says J Street co-chair

Locals skeptical toward Trump’s Middle East peace plan

The plan was immediately rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, though it is a path to statehood and comes with a $50 billion incentive

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Is the Trump administration’s newly unveiled plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians a good faith effort toward a workable two-state solution, or is it just a one-sided gift to the Jewish state?

Well, it depends on whom you ask.

In the most basic sense, the plan is a two-state solution. But statements from President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the announcement of the plan last week, along with the text of the plan, have already triggered a wave of speculation and more than a little confusion.

At its core, the plan proposes a two-state solution, envisioning an autonomous Palestinian state. However, as U.S. Ambassador David Friedman stressed in a phone call with reporters following the news conference, Israel would retain security control over all the land that would include a Palestinian state. So even though the Palestinians would have their own system of government throughout their state, Israeli forces would still be allowed to patrol and exert their will in the area — as Friedman described it, “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Another provision of the plan — allowing Palestinians to move freely between the West Bank and Gaza — would be a major change from the status quo. Palestinians currently cannot move between the two areas without Israeli approval. Family members and others would no longer be separated as they are now.

The proposed Palestinian state would consist of most of the West Bank (about 80%, according to estimates), and Gaza, the strip of land in the middle of Israel’s western coast.

The plan also leaves the possibility of later adding the so-called “Triangle” — a collection of Arab towns adjacent to the West Bank but part of Israel proper — to a Palestinian state, if both parties agree.

Under the plan, controversial parts of the West Bank would become officially recognized Israeli territory, including all of the Israeli “communities” — or settlements — that are dotted throughout the potential future Palestinian state, as well as the Jordan Valley, which Israel has largely controlled since the Six-Day War.

The plan gives the Israelis and Palestinians four years to accept these borders, and during that time, Israel will freeze any new settlement construction that would encroach on the Palestinian state outlined in the plan.

Another key part of the plan involves the dismantling of the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hamas currently governs Gaza with an iron fist, so removing it would significantly change the coastal strip.

Palestinian officials also would have to agree to stop its policy of paying the families of terrorists who attack Israelis.

Trump said adoption of the plan by both sides would trigger $50 billion in international investment in a newly created state of Palestine that could result in job creation, economic development and dramatically improved living conditions for Palestinians.

Also under the plan, Jerusalem would be Israel’s capital, with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem in neighborhoods beyond the barrier.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the plan before it was released.

Local reaction in Pittsburgh ranged from skepticism to condemnation.

“I think there are a lot of good things in the proposal of the peace plan that was developed by the administration. However, there still isn’t a peace partner,” stressed Stuart Pavilack, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America: Pittsburgh. “Nothing has changed there, and I can’t get excited about this without a peace partner.”

While the plan could greatly improve the lives of the Palestinian people, he said, Palestinian “leadership will never buy into anything like that. Their leadership looks at all of Israel as an occupation and they won’t do anything that reduces their chance of getting everything that they want.”

Pavilack praised the plan’s provisions requiring the cessation of incitement and the rewarding of Palestinian violence, but was not optimistic that could be successfully implemented, particularly because of the influence of Hamas and other terrorist groups.

“I’ve said for a number of years, if the Palestinians were to quit teaching hatred, violence, incitement, all those things, that maybe in four or five generations there could be a chance for peace,” he said. “But the lack of that, and with the other players that are in those areas that the Palestinian Authority does not control, I just can’t see anything different happening.”

Anat Talmy, a software engineer in Pittsburgh who was born and raised in Israel, predicted that the plan could “turn out to be a very significant milestone in the future.”

“For the first time, the peace plan states that if the Palestinians really want a state they need to fulfill a few basic conditions,” Talmy explained. “They need to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, they need to end the Hamas terrorist regime, the Palestinians need to be disarmed. They need to end ‘pay for slay,’ paying Palestinian terrorists after they murder Jews. And they need to end incitement and the propagation of hate by education.”

For the first time in a proposed plan, she said, “there are consequences for the Palestinians’ refusal to get into the peace process. So, if they do not agree, Israel can proceed to secure its interests without them. This is a very big step.”

Previous negotiations, she said, “hinged upon the assumption that Israel has no right to the land captured in the Six Day War, and therefore, Israel needs to make inevitable concessions. And this new plan first puts an end to this assumption after originally the U.S. made clear it does not regard the Jewish settlements as illegal. And it makes sure the future of the Jewish community in Judea and Samaria is not held hostage indefinitely due to the Palestinian standstill.”

Still, she was not optimistic that the plan would bring peace.

“The Palestinians are not seeking statehood,” she said. “Many groups in the modern era are looking for it. However, the Palestinians are perhaps the only nationally independent movement that has ever rejected, time after time, an offer of internationally recognized statehood. And to reject such an offer for statehood, plus $50 billion…I think what their true goal is, is not independence.”

For Nancy Bernstein, co-chair of J Street Pittsburgh, and part of the progressive Hatikvah slate for the World Zionist Congress, the proposal is “not an honest good faith effort and a peace plan.”

“I think that when you look at the substance, it exacerbates and entrenches conflict rather than resolves it,” she said. “And it kind of ensures Palestinian rejection. The several years that Trump’s been in office, he’s basically moved to alienate and bring the Palestinians to their knees.”

While she acknowledged the plan “uses very nice words of compassion and respect for Palestinians and their plight,” its substance contradicts that message.

“It pretty much tramples on every sensitive issue related to the conflict and resolution of the major issues,” said Bernstein. “It’s kind of like double-speak, it’s saying one thing that sounds really nice and on the other hand, doing the opposite.”

The Trump administration’s actions in the Middle East prior to the unveiling of the proposal has “alienated and inflamed” the relationship with the Palestinians, according to Bernstein.

“They moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, they shut down the PLO representative office in D.C., and they cut off all humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and the PA, and then openly speak to legitimize settlement expansion and annexation,” she said. “So, if you just step back and think about that as a way of preparing your partner to try to make peace or try to create trust and some sense of cooperation and respect, they failed on that even before this plan was created.”

She also condemned the plan because “it endorses unilateral annexation of Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley and paves the way for permanent occupation of the West Bank. There is already occupation of the West Bank. In some ways it’s a de facto annexation already, but now they want to make it official. And that’s not something, I think, when you are talking about a Palestinian state, the Palestinians would ever accept.”

Jonathan Mayo, who is also on the Hatikvah slate, agrees Trump’s “deal of the century” is not “a viable peace plan.”

“I wouldn’t call it a peace plan at all,” he said. “It’s a decision made by two leaders trying to make themselves look better when both are in trouble politically.”

It is problematic, Mayo noted, to introduce a plan devised without “all parties involved at the table. You can’t negotiate a peace plan with only one side involved and that’s what’s happened here.”

Annexation, he added, “is not a peace plan. It’s a continued, expanded occupation. It’s not a path forward in any way, shape or form in my view.”

While Mayo acknowledged the proposed plan is a two-state solution of sorts, it is unfair, he said, comparing it to the treatment of Native Americans in the United States.

“It’s like telling Native Americans you can have self-determination but you need to stay on this small piece of land on a reservation,” he said. “That’s not for me a true state. Any plan that involves annexation and permanent taking over where the settlements are is not a plan I’m interested in.” pjc

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at
ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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